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Recap: 2015 IB Conference of the Americas

Rachelle Bernadel is the IB’s University Relations Administrator at the IB Global Centre in Bethesda, MD, USA. She is also an IB graduate of Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Maryland.

As things begin to simmer down a bit and I prepare to leave the office for a little staycation, I could not head out without sharing my experience during this year’s IB Annual Conference of the Americas in Chicago, Illinois. This was my first conference attendance as I joined the IB at the tail end of the 2014 conference and I can confidently say it was worth the wait!

The 2015 Conference topped last year’s event by hosting over 1900 attendees selling out 2 weeks before the conference. The Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers facility and staff was gracious enough to host our conference allowing participants to enjoy the amazing architecture and food of this unique city.

Chicago view

View of the city next to the Chicago Riverwalk

The theme of this conference was “Educating for Life” and was reflected throughout the various keynote speakers, educational sessions and the overall dispositions that many attendees held while networking with colleagues.
All of the speakers were exceptional and shared insight on how to engage students from a holistic and “non- traditional” perspective but the words of Paul Tough and Carmen Agra Deedy resonated with me the most.

During Paul Tough’s session, he talked extensively about the importance of students developing a set of non-cognitive skills like grit, curiosity, zest. These are skills can be learned or practiced and oftentimes have an effect on how we deal with adversity. When students are intentionally exposed to non-cognitive attributes, it forms a person who is more capable of traversing life’s difficulties (both academic and otherwise). At its core, this is what the IB is all about, so it was refreshing to hear the scientific rationale that supports it.

As the aunt of my 10-month old niece, children’s book author Carmen Agra Deedy’s session was particularly moving. She spoke about her familial experiences with reading and how those shaped the stories and books she would subsequently go on to write. Carmen powerfully stated that, “if you have very little ownership of knowledge, you have little to believe.” It is important to empower students early so that they are owners of knowledge and words and reinforce this throughout the developmental stages. With the IB firmly promoting access to all students, particularly ones who are low income, this message is vital to instilling agency in all learners.

Opening session

The stage at the opening session

Apart from the keynote speakers, the university relations team supported and organized seven education sessions led by members of our College and University Relations Committee (CURC), other IB educators, secondary and university colleagues from across the region. Each session was filled to capacity with robust conversation between the presenters and members of the audience. We were very pleased with the outcomes and you can learn more about them here (all presentations will be posted on the website in the coming weeks):

Admissions Case Studies:
• This presentation gave participants an opportunity to gain first hand exposure of the process that admission readers have to go through when evaluating applicants.

• This year we incorporated a novel perspective from Minerva University in which holistic admissions is the root of their application so it was interesting for participants to understand that process.
IB Counselors and Coordinators Together:
• A very informational session that gave suggestions and tips to foster a good counselor/coordinator relationship. Communication on both ends is crucial in order to maximize the IB experience for students and faculty support.

Marketing IB Students/Program:
• A very interactive session about how to portray your IB program on paper (recommendation, application) for university admissions. There was also much discussion on the importance of know your constituency beyond the university level.

• The group analyzed different school profiles and had a brainstorming session to discuss items that may be helpful in their own school profile creation (or revamp).

Supporting Underserved Students:
• This session provided information about the state of underserved students and how they are not “at risk” but there are institutions that put students “at risk.”

• Panelists discussed programs and initiatives that are being done to serve these students.

Under Fire-University Recognition/ Global Recognition:
• Served as a forum to discuss questions, suggestion, complaints about IB recognition. It was combined with university and global recognition update which was a good opportunity to discuss issues within the region.

El Arte de Presentar a Nuestros Alumnos y Programas a las Universidades en Los Estados y Unidos y Canada:
• A real nuts and bolts session in Spanish about how to present IB students and program.

How to Apply to Canada, UK and Europe:
• This session tied into the topic of predicted grades piece as US counselors need to understand grades from an international lens.

• Presenters discussed the various application pieces that students need to consider when studying outside of the US.

ARC Collage

This conference could not have been so successful without the help of all of our colleagues who presented with us Andrew Arida, Mairead Barry, Jim Bock, Kirk Brennan, Jonathan Burdick, Christine Eischen, Shannon Gundy, Kedra Ishop, Pam Joos, Michael Lai, Sara Leven, Kristen Machczynski, Rosa Moreno-Zutautas, Panetha Ott, Paul Sanders, Brian Spittle, Shayne Swift, Kara Turner, Debra von Bargen, David Zutautas. You are an amazing group of professionals and the university relations team was honored to work with you! (I took our names out of the list)

Our conference was truly an experience that allowed me to network with colleagues I frequently talk with via email, as well as a time to nurture existing relationships over topics like college access in a common space, with a passion that you could just feel in any room you entered.

As I reflect on this past week, the IB is not just a program independent from the school it is in or the students who participate, but it is an approach that encourages those involved to learn for life. This is a challenge I hope you will join us in pursing as you work in your schools, districts and governments over this next year and future years to come. On that note, see you at the 2016 Conference of the Americas in Toronto!

2015-07-26 10.59.28

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